Much as March always feel like a big panicked rush, we have actually been preparing for the fair for months. From the first meeting request that came in December, to booking flights/hotels and arranging schedules, a lot of preparation goes into these four days.
Last year was my first experience of the fair, and just remembering the buzz makes me want to jump on the plane right now. From the mood in the airport – goodness knows what any non-publishing people must think – to the enthusiasm in the Agents Centre, this shared excitement by a group of people focused on children’s publishing is the really big takeaway from the experience.
I’m lucky this year to be going with my colleague Molly Hawn, and that means shared planning, being able to chivvy each other along when not even Italian coffee is working, and having a great sounding board to decompress after the days’ meetings.
Over the next few weeks, Molly and I will be focused on preparing pitches for the debuts we are taking and planning how to approach our meetings. We will be seeing UK and US editors, and also foreign publishers to show off our fantastic rights guide. Most of our meetings will take place in the Agents Centre, which is positioned between the exhibition halls. The Agents Centre can feel a little like speed dating at times – a half-hour focused meeting to find out an editor’s personal taste and gauge what they are looking for and what they are not. Then we pitch projects that we think would be a good fit.
Focused, repetitive pitching like this really makes a point about things agents often say when turning down submissions: ‘It just isn’t for me,’ or ‘I liked it, but I didn’t love it.’ We have read our clients’ books countless times, edited them and written pitches for them. Then we have to talk about them endlessly for four days. No wonder we have to LOVE these books!
Bologna is non-stop. We take a taxi from the airport to our first meeting, and these meetings continue all day, with parties and dinners in the evening. Catching up with agent friends and publishers in these more relaxed social events was a big highlight for me last year. Publishing really is filled with some of the nicest people!
And so after four days we will return from the fair with new contacts, lists of manuscripts to send out to interested editors, and feedback for our clients. We will have seen nothing of Bologna itself, but we will have eaten a lot of pasta and maybe some gelato. We will be exhausted and feel the need to hibernate, but that will quickly pass.
After all, we have London Book Fair three weeks later!